Make something first, then worry about marketing

Ariana Osborne is credited as “Chief Mechanic” on the FreakAngels(1) web-comic/graphic novel series (written by Warren Ellis, artwork by Paul Duffield). In practice it seems that this means she’s the web designer/maintainer and general “make the crazy idea work in practice” person.

One of the things that she and Warren Ellis are doing is using the various print-on-demand (should that be produce on demand?) services that have been around for some time. For example, they’ve set up a CafePress store to sell a variety of branded items along with the tongue-in-cheek “t-shirt of the week” (TOTW).

From Warren’s blog:

…Basically, we take some of the stupider things I’ve said on Twitter and elsewhere, often in a state of extreme alcoholic refreshment or severe sleep deprivation, and put them on a t-shirt. Ariana set up a Cafe Press store (because this is a joke and engaging with a serious maker of t-shirts would be less funny to us), and… well, once a week, here we are.

Through this website and this Cafe Press store, we’re going to release one t-shirt a week. It’ll go live on Monday… and it’ll die Sunday night — midnight UK time, more often than not. Each one lives for a week, and then it’s replaced by the next week’s shirt. Until I either run out of dumb ideas or Ariana’s brain explodes.

Ariana expands on the subject in her first blog post (which has since, sadly, disappeared from the web) about TOTW:

But the salient point here — just in case it’s not sticking out quite enough to stick you in the eye — is that it took no. time. at. all. to toss together a shop and a bit of fun. I cannot imagine that you’d have that hard a time of doing what-ever it is that’s been kicking around in your head. And, yes, it is totally fair for you to say “but I haven’t got 3billion followers on Twitter to tell about it…!” and it’s also quite fair to say “But MY fun side project involves supplies and an Etsy shop and will likely take FORTY minutes to set up.”

The thing of it is, you don’t need to be thinking “well how many of whatever would I have to sell to make it worth my blah blah blah” — you’ve just got to think “would I rather spend the next hour looking for neat stuff online, or would I rather, you know, make something neat. And maybe someone buys one, and that’s one more person noticing me than right this second. And also, hey, I get to make something!”

Both Warren and Ariana are enthusiastic proponents of the cause of getting off your backside and making something – not fussing about whether you have a 20-page marketing strategy document or an army of Twitter followers beforehand.

And this is most definitely the right approach. You need to make something first, then start getting it out there. It’s simply impossible to have an army of Twitter followers unless there’s a reason for them to follow you, and if you’re an artist/writer/musician then that means that you’ve got to have made your artwork/writing/music available – even if it’s only a few preparatory pieces or a demo or two.


  1. FreakAngels itself is an interesting experiment (as well as being a damn fine graphic novel) in a business model that involves giving content away for free. It’s published online on a weekly basis, absolutely free of charge and accessible by everyone, and the graphic novel collections of these weekly strips are sold in the usual printed format (it’s important to state that the weekly online episodes remain online for free even after print versions have been published). I could probably dedicate an entire blog post to FreakAngels, and probably shall one day in the not-too-distant future.